Rita Hoey Dragonette

 Rita Dragonette

I’ve always felt  public relations is a career that many people fall into inadvertently. And,  that our circuitous career paths are often indicative of the type of relentless personality it takes to make it, particularly in the agency business.


I wanted to write, but knew I needed to make a living. I started at Northern Illinois University on a nursing scholarship (another story), bolted from that sophomore year to try journalism, left the first month when a “J” teacher said he’d show us how to get away with slander, and ended up the English major I wanted to be all along.


Upon graduation, at the recommendation of the older sister of a friend of my boyfriend, I joined Commerce Clearing House in Chicago as a proofreader for law documents (truly the definition of boredom). I soon escaped to Iowa City, hoping to last a year working in a Burger Chef. The plan was to establish residency and enter the Iowa Writer’s Workshop at more affordable, in-state tuition rates. However, after a few months I couldn’t take the grease and my status as a “townie.”


While looking for a job back in Chicago, I took on a temp assignment for Kelly Girl. I was told I had “virtually nonexistent” secretarial skills and was sent to stuff envelopes at Serra International, a male-only organization with a mission to encourage men to join the priesthood. I whipped through the assignment at breakneck speed due to my experience doing something similar all through college, and had time to chat up the office manager. I told him I wanted to be a writer and it turned out he wrote pot-boiler novels on the side. Impressed, he revealed the organization was looking for an editor for their magazine. After a trial article I was hired, though they considered having me change my name on the masthead to the gender neutral “Pat,” a request that was fortunately overruled.


At the magazine I did everything, and therefore had to figure everything out myself, from reporting/writing to page layout, photography, sizing photos, etc. In a few months they ran out of money, but I had six issues of a magazine with my name on them—my first published writing! Now I could go after I real job.


 I was referred to the Publicity Club of Chicago’s Job Mart Service. I ended up as the junior member of a two-person PR department of what I thought was a real estate company, but soon discovered was an advertising agency specializing in home builders. Again, I did everything, with only slightly more supervision, including my first media pitching. I hated that instantly, probably because I had to learn only through my mistakes, and I hated to do things less than top notch.


When I felt I’d gained everything I could from that position, I went back to the Job Mart and landed as the sole publicity coordinator for US Gypsum with, again, no supervisor.  I was on my own, including having to figure out how to handle a major crisis involving endangered condors in California.  When they moved PR under the Art Director and my writing was edited into brochure copy, I knew it was time to move again.


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